Wasington, DC -In another time; in another society, following April 7’s electoral defeat, the leaders of the Parti Quebecois would have given Mme Marois a revolver with one bullet and escorted her to a closed room.
A Medieval Era response would have been more polite—simply consigned her to a nunnery to live out her days contemplating the errors of her ways.
Media observers have said that Canadian federalism “dodged a bullet” with the PQ defeat in the 7 April election. To be sure—but only because the bullet it dodged had already been fired by separatists directly into their own hearts.
For if ever there was a classic example of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, it was demonstrated by the Parti Quebecois in this election. It is difficult to transform clear electoral polling advantages and momentum at the beginning of a short campaign into massive defeat; however, Mme Marois has provided a textbook illustration of such. Not only was her party rejected—in the worst defeat of its modern history—but to add insult to injury, she was ousted from her own riding.
Clearly the message was “Go”—never darken our doorsteps again.
So why did what looked like a slam dunk victory backfire so explosively?
There is an old nanny maxim that supposedly refers to homosexual activity, “I don’t care what they do, so long as they…don’t frighten the horses.” And the PQ simply did not learn from the comparable (actually worse) catastrophe that destroyed the Bloc Quebecois. One recalls the moment when Mme Marois’ received massive reaffirmation of PQ support immediately prior to the May 2011 election. Joined by BQ leader Gilles Duceppe, they said, in effect, with a strong Bloc in Ottawa and a PQ victory in the forthcoming provincial election, “everything is possible.”
“Everything” was extrapolated in the minds of beholders as return to sovereignty/referendum politics. And the frightened electorate bolted, overwhelmingly rejecting that federal level option by annihilating the BQ—indeed, even defeating Duceppe in his own riding.
But did the PQ learn from that experience? Not hardly.
It won a narrow minority government in September 2012 defeating a totally exhausted Liberal government (including beating Prime Minister Charest in his riding) but with a slim popular vote margin. Clearly the PQ had a mandate, but it was strictly on sufferance from the electorate, i.e., “Don’t frighten the horses.”
And indeed Marois worked deftly. She adroitly created a wedge issue Quebec “Charter” ostensibly designed to strengthen and assure Francophone rights, primarily with a dress code for public employees that would eliminate obvious religious symbolism. The Anglophone/Allophone community saw it as prejudicial, but Francophones largely embraced it, pushing Marois/PQ polling numbers into majority territory.
And then the PQ unveiled its trump card: a star candidacy by Pierre Karl Peladeau (PKP), Quebec billionaire media mogul, who appeared to be icing on the cake for a PQ victory. But then all the wheels came off the victory parade float. PKP proved that billionaires are not oxen to be happily hitched to the party wagon. Indeed, PKP was a bull carrying his own china shop; his fist-pumping declaration that he entered politics to promote Quebec sovereignty stampeded the “horses” to the Liberals, and there was no way to round them up.
So What Does It Mean? Essentially, Marois has destroyed the last hopes for Quebec independence in her generation. She has put proof to Lucien Bouchard’s observation that while he believed Quebec would become sovereign, he didn’t think that it would happen in his lifetime.
A majority PQ government might have been able to manipulate a combination of demands, “grievances,” and weak federal leadership in Quebec/Ottawa into the proverbial “winning conditions” for a referendum. It is not that Quebeckers are hostile to the concept of independence—they just are exceptionally hostile to the process for securing it.
If Quebeckers awakened one morning to hear as a bolt-from-the-blue that Quebec was now a sovereign state, there would be no rush to the barricades singing “Oh Canada!” or convoys of terrified Anglophones heading to points west. The consequences would be more akin to spats over who gets grandmother’s crystal bowl when the family home breaks up.
Essentially, the hand of Canada lies lightly on Quebec; Francophones are indeed “masters in their own dwelling,” and the more discerning appreciate Ottawa provides considerable fiscal support.
Indeed, Quebec sovereignty is not dead, but detecting a heartbeat beneath the lawn is akin to finding Malaysia FL 370.